Len Kasper moderated an entertaining discussion with the Cubs coaching staff this morning. The conversation covered a lot of ground from specific questions about player development to fun insights into how the staff works together. It was a great chance for fans to get a glimpse into how the new coaching staff is coming together and what they might be focusing on for 2018. Here are some highlights.
A lot of new faces
The stage was crowded with Joe Maddon, Brandon Hyde, Mike Borzello, Lester Strode, Juan Cabreja and Franklin Font being joined by newcomers Jim Hickey, Chili Davis, Brian Butterfield, Andy Haines and Will Venable. Haines and Venable were both already in the Cubs organization but have moved into major league coaching roles for the 2018 season. It’s worth noting that while there were a lot of new faces many players discussed having long-term connections in other organizations and the chemistry among the whole crew seemed strong.
The most entertaining part of the discussion revolved around each coach naming their favorite player growing up. Hickey, who grew up in Chicago, stole the show by naming most of the 1969 Cubs. Borzello and Haines competed for the least popular responses by naming Steve Garvey and Ozzie Smith, respectfully. Interestingly, both Haines and Venable also named Chili Davis, which he seemed to get a kick out of.
A few of my favorite Maddonisms were on display during the panel. Specifically, don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure and a discussion of outcome bias.
“Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure” came up as the result of a line of questioning to Davis about hitting during the postseason and trying to be patient at the plate in an anxiety heightened environment. Davis stressed players being able to trust the guy behind them and, as he would frequently, noted the importance of relationship building in that process. Maddon jumped in to emphasize enjoying even the most stressful of moments and keeping things balanced in the postseason.
After taking a bit of heat for specific decisions and bullpen management, Maddon spent a decent amount of time discussing the importance of outcome bias. Basically, reminding the audience that Major League Baseball is a game of strategy between coaches and players who are the best of the best, getting beat now and again doesn’t mean a decision was bad. It’s about winning the preponderance of those events over the course of a season and trusting your process. It almost made me wonder if he read our game threads sometimes here at BCB.
There were only two questions about specific players but they have both come up frequently here, so I wanted to share them.
Borzello was asked about what work is being done with Willson Contreras on pitch framing and he mentioned that is a focus for him in 2018. He reminded the crowd that Willson is a converted catcher and that when he came up in 2016 the Cubs were really focused on him being able to handle the pitching staff and being prepared for the game. Now that he feels more comfortable in those roles, they can focus more on how he receives the ball.
Chili Davis was asked about how they are approaching Jason Heyward’s hitting. He noted that they have already been hard at work on that in the offseason and that they are working on getting to know each other and build their relationship. He focused on working with Heyward to establish a consistent and comfortable approach at the plate.
Bonus: the origins of the dancing bullpen
Strode said that the dancing bullpen was started by Pedro Strop last year and the coaching staff and team love it just as much as we fans do. He did emphasize that they try to be mindful of the timing with it, since it just doesn’t seem right to be dancing when the game is going poorly.